Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Climate Scientists Frustrated

Think climate change is going to be tough for other, poorer nations but a breeze for the United States? Think again, according to this article in Salon (see intro below.)
How dire is the climate situation? Consider what Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations' prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said last month: "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." Pachauri has the distinction, or misfortune, of being both an engineer and an economist, two professions not known for overheated rhetoric.
In fact, far from being an alarmist, Pachauri was specifically chosen as IPCC chair in 2002 after the Bush administration waged a successful campaign to have him replace the outspoken Dr. Robert Watson, who was opposed by fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil. So why is a normally low-key scientist getting more desperate in his efforts to spur the
planet to action?
Part of the answer is the most recent
IPCC assessment report. For the first time in six years, more than 2,000 of the world's top scientists reviewed and synthesized all of the scientific knowledge about global warming. The Fourth Assessment Report makes clear that the accelerating emissions of human-generated heat-trapping gases has brought the planet close to crossing a threshold that will lead to irreversible catastrophe. Yet like Cassandra's warning about the Trojan horse, the IPCC report has fallen on deaf ears, especially those of conservative politicians, even as its findings are the most grave to date.
Part of this is due to the IPCC's own media naiveté. It doesn't put a lot of thought into publicizing its reports; heck, it released this final synthesis on Nov. 17 -- a Saturday! -- in Valencia, Spain. Not exactly the best way to get attention from the most intransigent and important audience: Americans. How little attention? According to, as of Dec. 11, the synthesis report had some 265 blog reactions, where the Aug. 24 YouTube video of Miss Teen South Carolina struggling to explain why a fifth of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map had more than 5,300 blog reactions. Hmmm. Perhaps these two things are related. But I digress.
With such poor notice for a seminal document, more than 200 scientists last week took the remarkable step of issuing a plea at the United Nations climate change conference in
Bali. Global greenhouse gas emissions, they declared, "must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose." The Associated Press headline on the statement was "Scientists Beg for Climate Action." What will we drive climate scientists to next? A hunger strike?
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